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Professional cycling speeds into St. Pete

Mark Parker



The CRIT Championship Tour will bring community and professional bicycle racing to the streets of St. Petersburg Oct. 21. Photos provided.

A recently launched cycling tour designed to promote inclusion, highlight host cities and provide a festival-like atmosphere will soon debut in St. Petersburg’s Edge District.

Michael Rideout and Nathan Stonecipher, founders of race organizer Orange Belt, are gearing up for the Oct. 21 CRIT Championship. Criterium races, known as “crits,” feature cyclists speeding through downtown streets and taking tight turns at 30 mph rather than trudging up remote mountains.

Community cycling enthusiasts will participate in the morning and afternoon events while the pros battle under the lights that evening. The self-billed “most spectator-friendly event in the sport of cycling” will also highlight local artists and feature live music, a skate expo at Green Bench Brewing and vendors.

“We’ve been pushing on this for three years,” Stonecipher said. “We think it’s the perfect location. And the mission and vision of L39ION (pronounced Legion) of Los Angeles and what we’re trying to do fit perfectly with our community.”

Justin Williams founded the L39ION professional cycling team in 2019. He won multiple short-distance national championships as a teen and the U23 National Criterium Championship in 2007.

Williams serves as the team’s manager and primary sprinter, and many of its professional cyclists and developmental riders hail from South-Central Los Angeles. He created L39ION to help eliminate boundaries and foster diversity and inclusion.

Williams launched the CRIT Championship Tour this year, and the St. Petersburg race will serve as its coming-out party. According to its website, the goal is to “showcase criterium racing in a way where athletes can make a good living competing at home in the U.S.”

The CRIT Championship promotes diversity and inclusion in cycling.

Stonechipher, co-owner of Green Bench Brewing, said he and Rideout wanted to feature the sport and the city simultaneously.

“I can’t tell you when we’ve had a formal cycling event in our city last,” Stonecipher added. “It’s been a long time.”

The race organizers believe St. Pete is uniquely suited for criterium racing’s shorter, urban tracks. The starting and finish line is at 1118 Central Ave., across from Intermezzo Coffee and Cocktails.

Cyclists then pedal around the .67-mile track encompassing 11th St., 1st Ave. and 15th St. N. The men and women professionals race for 70 minutes.

“It’s maximum energy output … for a long period of time,” he said. “It’s a huge physical effort.”

General admission is free, and Stonecipher expects 5,000 to 10,000 spectators. The race also features a VIP area and reserved premium seating at the finish line.

However, people can bring a lawn chair or watch from one of the many local businesses along the race route. Stonecipher and Rideout have encouraged owners to “really make it a party in front of each of their spaces.”

“I know Mark (Ferguson, owner of Ferg’s Sports Bar & Grill) has a lot of things planned for race day,” Stonecipher added.

A map of the course. City officials will close area streets to accommodate the race.

Orange Belt has completed the necessary planning and permitting, and the track will close to vehicles throughout Saturday, Oct. 21. Stonecipher credited city officials, who have “wanted a cycling event here for a long time,” for remaining flexible and “helping us every step of the way.”

The CRIT Championship features 10 teams representing cities like Miami, Austin, Denver, New York and London. Several races are open to anyone who wants to compete.

The events kick off at 9:15 a.m. with a community ride. A 5K run follows and precedes the women’s and men’s open races.

The event also features fixed gear opens before kids under 12 take the track. The invitation-only women and men professional races cap a full day of cycling.

“The CRIT Championship Tour and L39ION of Los Angeles are using St. Petersburg to kind of kick off a league they want to start next year,” Stonecipher explained. “So, multiple races and multiple cities with a points program.”

Stonecipher said he and Rideout drew inspiration from the nation’s longest-running criterium race in Athens, Georgia. They have attended the nearly 40-year-old event multiple times, just two of its 30,000 to 60,000 annual attendees.

Race organizers encourage local bike clubs like Critical Mass to participate in the events. Photo by Mark Parker.

Stonecipher noted that those spectators patronize local businesses, explore the city and “really get a feel for the area.” He plans to recreate that atmosphere in the Edge District.

“St. Petersburg is usually very supportive of unique communitywide events,” Stonecipher said. “We would love to grow this to the biggest criterium even in the U.S., over time – that’s our goal.

“We really want this event to showcase what St. Petersburg is, and hopefully create an environment where everyone is going to want to come out and spend time that day.”

For tickets and more information, visit the website here.





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